Group Healing

| By Paul | | Comments (28)

As many of you know, I have been inpatient in a psychiatric hospital; the same hospital I have been coming to since two decades ago. I was discharged today after 17 days. Every admission is unique. Yet every time there are striking similarities.

One similarity, alluded to in my last post, is the healing power of the group experience. The inpatient unit I always go to specializes in trauma and dissociative disorders. So, in a certain sense, we all have something in common. All of us know about triggers. We recognize when someone is in crisis and is grappling with safety. We know what it means to struggle with being present and we can sit together outside the nurses station and help each other ground. We empathize with someone who is in acute distress and may need to go to the Quiet Room. Or shudder when we hear the words yelled out from some corner of the unit by a nurse: "I need staff!"

There is a weight to the place that is almost impossible to describe. But it is also a place of levity. There are a few staff who specialize in this. One staff member likes to tell us each morning he received a "Certificate for the Best Blood Pressure Cuff Putter Oner." The other night, one nurse listened to much of my 90s "alternative rock" playlist on my iPod. I gave her the name of a good restaurant, and she shared with me a great grilled steak recipe. I do not think I have ever been there when I have not, at least once, almost peed my pants in laughter. I even got a real doctor's prescription for "One Dog"; yes, a real live dog!

That is the balance I often refer to. It is the balance that makes the unit the special place that it is. It is the balance where we find true healing.

We are all at different points along the healing journey. I know when I started here I was always amongst the youngest. Now it is not that way. In fact, someone referred to me the other day, in a complimentary way, as the "Unit Dad," I think, in part, because so few patients are male.

I often meet young people who have so few skills and feel as though their lives will never change. I also meet many who have struggled for decades and are tired of the journey. I am one of those people sometimes. For many, the journey never seems to be worth it. For many, depression never lifts. For many, life is one disappointment after another. It is somewhat natural, in one sense, to contemplate suicide.

I like to think that being around others—going to groups, sharing in the kitchen, being up sleepless at night because of PTSD hypervigilance—is remarkably healing. Many of us do not know the gruesome details of each others' histories. But we know where most are at. We just know. In art therapy group today, the last group I attended before I left, the directive was to draw a fork in the road. We draw for 20 minutes. We post our drawings on the board. And we talk about them and get feedback from others. When you have spent two weeks with many of the same people, you understand what their art means and what they are trying to express. It all makes sense.

Where all this is taking me is that I now have a better appreciation for what "group healing" means. Many of us think we heal by doing therapy, which usually means between two people, a therapist and a patient. So many of us are involved in groups—be they sports groups, book club groups, Internet groups or what have you—and these can all be quite therapeutic. But there is so much healing that can occur in a group focused on trauma healing; especially when the group experience is more than just talking. It is art. It is music. It is laughter. It is crying.

Thank you Proctor 2.

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Evan said:

"Most things that are therapeutic aren't 'therapy'" - Erving Polster - a gestalt 'therapist'.

I'm glad there were good times for you on this visit.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Evan:

Evan! I love people who know when to pull the right quotes! I never seem to know any. Thanks!

Nansie said:

This is so nice and reassuring to hear and read, Paul. For once I got a picture of a hospital that would be a good place to stay and not someplace that is scary and a place for "crazy" people. Almost like a camp. Very nice and it sounds like such a soothing place where you can just unwind, relax and explore. I am happy to hear all of this and I bet you feel really good about the experience.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Nansie:

Nansie. Well, I didn't really mean to give the "camp" impression. Although I suppose some can go there and "just unwind, relax and explore". As I said there is a "weight" to the place and it's hard if you focus on hard stuff. Very hard. There are better places if you want to goto a camp! :)

katie said:

hi paul, thank you for sharing about your experience in the hospital. it sounds so positive. i'm glad to hear about such a healing experience inpatient. and i'm glad you got to have such an experience.

i loved my group therapy experiences. i feel like there's much more that we can gain from sharing our experiences with our peers as well as professionals. too often i have esteemed therapists as above me. as magical, perfect sages who must have all the answers. this has led to some frustration, confusion and disappointment when they have proven how human they are.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to katie:

I'm glad to have shared the experience Katie. Yes, there is so much more than what we traditionally have come to accept as trauma healing.

castorgirl said:

Whenever you talk about your hospital experiences, I always get a sense of acceptance, validation, understanding and appreciation. I know you do hard work there, but I get a sense of it being a safe place which allows that work to take place. You talk about the staff, and I really think that is the key aspect of the environment. So while you say that you got a prescription for a dog, I also know that the reason for that prescription would have been a much bigger issue... It's brilliant when those around you know how, and when, to use appropriate humour and levity to help you through the tough stuff.

Having never been in a group setting like you describe, I liken it to the acceptance and warmth I feel towards others in the online communities that I am part of. That sense of not being alone in this struggle is huge, and at times, life saving.

Take care and remember to rest well after all that hard work...

Paul Author Profile Page replied to castorgirl:

Thanks Castorgirl. Yes, I'm acutely aware that the hospital experience is not a common one for most. That saddens me because I'm not really sure it's all that hard to replicate. But maybe it is. See my note to Katie in the last post. I have been thinking about doing more expressive group exercises collaboratively online. Although, the experience of living with 20 others 24/7 is quite different. I will say, though, that it's about a 50/50 split (and maybe that's being too generous) between those who want to do the hard work and those who think the place is just a prison and want to get out yesterday. What you make of it has a LOT to do with what you get out of it. So, even when a resource like this is under your nose, you can still not see it's there. That's the sad part to me. Because I know someone like you, on the other side of the world, would thrive in this type of environment.

Nansie said:

I think the togetherness feeling that you describe in being in a group setting is something very interesting to me. I know this is very hard work but I do give a lot of credit to the environment around us as being a contributor to this hard work. It sounds to me like this hospital really has a good thing going on with their work in trauma. I like the idea about the dog... if you want one I can hook you up!! :) I am pleasantly surprised about all the laughing you did. This really helps when you are dealing with trauma. Somehow when I can laugh on a bad day it feels like that somehow offsets the seriousness of what I am feeling and dealing with. I am very interested in knowing more about this creative writing: what is the procedure and mindset and goal? It sounds like something that I could explore with my stuff. I really like the tone you use with this post. It sounds lighter and happier with a note of contentment and peace. Good for you and I am really happy to read it!

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Nansie:

Nansie. I'm giving some serious thought to an online expressive group. I'll let you know.

Austin said:

Your words seem stronger than when you went in. That's certainly a good sign.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Austin:

Thanks Austin. Well, if I spoke words today, they wouldn't be so strong. So, I'll stop talking!

katie said:

hi paul, i just noticed your last comment. i can't tell if you're joking or not about stopping talking, but i wanted to say i'm sorry if you're having a rough day so far and i hope it gets better.

i just know when i feel bad, i tend to withdraw but not always for good reasons. so i wanted to send you a gentle reminder that it is ok to talk if you need to and there are people who care out here.

take good care~

Paula said:

Paul, I can relate so very much. My experience at the day center for this 3 months Intense Trauma Therapy was so very shocking at first. Being in a group for so many hours was like mine field. I changed it into exercise field and laughter group after a few days ;-) The validation, acceptance and the throughout feeling of being part of this group really gave me the push I needed. For so long I called myself outsider wothout realising how often I turned myself into an outsider. I am glad you are discharged and looking forward to many happy exchanges here. I have been to the hospital for surgery and just got discharged. Hugs to you.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Paula:

Paula and katie. Thank you both. Yes, it was a very validating experience and from my interactions here online I know that such experiences are rare. So, I'm thinking of how to recreate some of what I've experienced through expressive therapies in an online setting. Yes, past couple days have been hard. But I think that's the normal transition period from coming out of the hospital.

OneSurvivor said:

I hope you won't mind what I write, Paul. In a way...I am jealous. I am pretty much on my own any more when it comes to healing and therapy. Well...not on my own in the sense that I always have my heavenly Abba to continue to lead and guide. However, I miss the human touch.

I also wish I could do a group thing. That is where I really get a bit jealous. I have had those rare moments in my life when I really felt a part of a group and it was awesome. But they were rare...and not since I have uncovered more of my history...not in a therapeutic sense.

I know that hospital stays are no picnic. The very fact that one has to go in means that hard things are happening. However, when I hear you describe what you get out of the one where you go...well, it is hard not to be a little bit jealous. Or maybe that is not the correct word. I am happy that you are able to make the most of your experiences and get such good things out of it. I am just sad for me...or maybe I am just feeling sorry for myself.

Anyway...I hope I am not raining on you or out of line in what I am writing. I am just being honest. Right now...I am fighting tears. I SO wish I had people in person that I could be open with...that I did not need to hide around. People who understood dissociation...and trauma...and art...and writing...and just plain sharing and being real about the kinds of things I have been through.

I think I have an unrealistic dream...and then I read about your experiences. I see that, somewhere, there actually are places where people who really want to work hard on stuff...can...successfully.

Well...I will get off my pity pot now. I am glad to see you are home. Take good care of yourself. I know that time when you first get out can be really challenging as you move back out of one environment and into the other. Be good to yourself during this transition time.

Please know that you are cared about.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to OneSurvivor:

OneSurvivor, I don't at all mind... In fact this kind of experience is what has prompted me to get motivated to create an online expressive arts group experience. Because I know that hospital programs and group programs are not accessible to very many at all. Although, I'm not sure why there are so few.

I'm really, really glad that you have made such positive experiences with group therapy in the hospital, Paul. On the other side, I really understood what OneSurvivor has written. Unfortunately it isn't common to have such a supportive group. But this is dependent from the people in the group and from the hospital staff which guide these groups. I have made all different kinds of experiences in such groups, from bad to good. In the worst case I have seen, how some group member have offended, insulted and yelled at another group member; and this happened in a hospital with a special trauma unit! I really wish, that more hospitals would replicate such a group where you have been. I'm glad that there are some hospitals which are good. Hope you are doing well. Take care.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to LostShadowChild:

Yes, I did not appreciate how uncommon such experiences were a year or two ago. I just assumed there were such trauma units all over the US and that they were run well. I am finding this is not true. Many Voices does list many hospital programs. The good news is that there is room for improvement. And perhaps with the mental health parity that's in place now in the US, things will change.

Shen said:

Wow, Paul, thanks for sharing this. I've never been in any kind of group therapy. I have always feared the hospital so much that I've managed to avoid it at all costs... but I have read your posts before and wondered if I haven't been doing myself a disservice by not taking help that is offered.

I can't imagine being in a situation where I was in a room full of people who really understood what I was feeling inside. Sometimes, at a CoDA meeting, I feel a taste of that, but there is always that voice inside me saying, "no, they can't really understand."

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Shen:

Hi Shen. Even though there are up to 20 on the inpatient unit, the expressive groups are not well attended. The reason I most here is that people are afraid of them. Talking groups tend to be more well attended, but then most just don't say much. I always had the feeling that help was available "out there", but not taken advantage of by most. I think these expressive groups would be hard to make "good" if they were a "room full of people". I think there is value to small groups.

Shen said:

That makes sense. Honestly, I get almost as much good therapy from my writer's group as I do in my therapy sessions or CoDA meetings. Sometimes just being in a small group where one can say anything and feel comfortable being themselves is all that is needed.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Shen:

Well said, Shen. This is why I referred to other kinds of groups... I think any group can be therapeutic.

Ivory said:

Oh, it is inspiring, as well. And by reading this I can tell that groups are rich - rich in empathy, common goals, and normalcy (if that makes sense.

Kerro said:

Paul, I had my first experience of a group tonight (just posted on my blog). I experienced some of the acceptance, understanding and validation that you describe. I am hoping that this is a sign of things to come, and that group work brings a different, somehow special, kind of healing.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Kerro:

That's great Kerro. I will be sure to check out your post. I haven't got to my RSS feeds yet.

cetcetera said:

I have always treasured the years that I had a real life support group for survivors with DID. It was so validating and comforting being with others who really knew what I was going through and had similar struggles with dissociation and others in their system, triggers, etc. My current therapist is talking about starting a support group where I live now. We are really hoping she will and the sooner the better.

We also related so well to your post about your experience in the hospital. Last July was our first time to go inpatient to a trauma unit hospital. It was all you said above and more (words can't describe how helpful it can be to be around others who are like you and understand.). Thanks for your post. We are also interested in your online expressive group that you mentioned possibly starting up. It sounds wonderful!

Paul Author Profile Page replied to cetcetera:

That's great cetcetera. The expressive arts group has started up. Check it out!

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This page contains a single entry published on April 15, 2010 2:00 PM.

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